Greg Wells

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – The Big Fantasize (2020)

KIM MITCHELL – The Big Fantasize (2020 El Mocambo Records)

13 years ago Kim Mitchell released Ain’t Life Amazing, his last studio album.  He wasn’t exactly quiet in that time — there was his radio show on Q107 in Toronto, but then he had a heart attack!  You can’t keep Kim Mitchell down, and his new one The Big Fantasize is a quieter collection of contemplative music.  Some of it is rock, some of it is clearly not.  And that’s OK.  Whether or not he’s rocking, Kim’s songwriting yielded some pretty great material.  There are nine new tunes, plus a bonus four live tracks for those who bought the physical product (CD or LP).

The gentle call of a clarinet is the first sound to be heard on the new Kim, a surprise to be sure.  “Red Horizon” is a sparse acoustic ballad with clarinet accompaniment, and melody that tugs at the heart.  It’s a brave way to open the album but also an honest one.  “This is what I do now, so don’t expect ‘Rock and Roll Duty Part 2′” is what this track says as an opener.

That said, “2up2Bdown” has that guitar playing you love Kim for.  It rocks but in a new slick way.  It would have fit comfortably on an album like 1992’s Aural Fixations, but better than that.  It’s a celebration, and if it’s the only track that sounds like “old Kim” then at least it does it well.

“Summer Lovers Autumn Wine” presents quiet electric guitars and pianos dancing in the twilight.  Like much of Kim’s music, it paints an audio picture with his guitar.  The mood turns bright on the delightful acoustic “Wishes”.  Kim’s mastery of melody and expression is apparent.  He gets the beat hopping again on “Georgian Bay”, a piano rocker with no guitar, maybe a little bit like the Guess Who?  Or maybe that’s just a lazy comparison.  It doesn’t matter, it’ll be perfect for your next summer deck party (whenever that is).

“Best I Never Had” might be laid back, but it has a strong dusky blues vibe.  Soulful backup singing lends the right feel.  “Montgomery” is a highlight song, mixing some skillful acoustic guitar pickin with the most memorable of melodies.  Upbeat, but quiet and gentle with trademark Mitchell hooks.  The acoustic solo is masterful.  More masterful melody takes center stage on “Old Marriage Waltz”, the closer “Time to Stay” really overshadows it.  A strong beat behind him, Kim picks away with intent.  Great light rocker to end a terrific album, on an upbeat note.

CD and vinyl buyers get the four live bonus tracks:  “Lager and Ale”, “Rocklandwonderland”, “Paradise Skies” (Max Webster tune), and “All We Are”.  If you needed more rock, here you go.  Firey live performances, captured in the studio in front of an audience.  “Rocklandwonderland” stands out with a new piano intro and a passionate performance.  However nothing can overshadow an epic “All We Are”, 8:13 of awesome.

After such a long wait, and an eventful one at that, it is a good thing to see that Kim Mitchell still has the creative spark to write a great song.  These songs are different but just as unforgettable as “Patio Lanterns”.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Rockland (1989)

KIM MITCHELL – Rockland (1989 Alert)

This album was huuuuge in 1989. In Canada, summer time is Mitchell time. Cottages, brewskies, BBQ and Mitchell. That’s what it was all about! Shakin’ Like a Human Being was also a huge success for Kim, but he expressed a desire to use less keyboards and programming. Kim recorded in the US this time, and for budget reasons, did not bring along lyricist Pye Dubois with him. Pye had been in the studio with Kim for every album prior, and this caused a rift between the two that took years to heal. This was the last time they collaborated until 1994’s Itch.

The pseudo-title track, “Rocklandwonderland” refers to the “concert bowl” at Canada’s Wonderland.  “Listen to the music, listen to the voices, listen to my guitar,” sings Kim, although the song is a little light on guitar. “Rocklandwonderland” was a big hit for Kim, and although it’s not a heavy rock, his guitar playing on it is stellar. Perhaps he shouldn’t have followed a slow rock tune with a ballad, although “Lost Lovers Found” is a hell of a ballad, with just a hint of twang. Some felt that Rockland was too soft compared to Kim’s progressive rock past, but a Kim ballad has more integrity than most. Kim’s backup singer extraordinaire, Peter Fredette, is present here and he also serves to class up any song by several notches.

Other ballads on the record include “Tangle of Love”, which is quirky and experimental but not great. “O Mercy Louise”, which has a rocking chorus, is a fine song with cool lyrics. The “big one” however was the single “Expedition Sailor”. This introspective acoustic song is sparse and effective. Kim’s buddy Rik Emmett from Triumph drops by to play an excellent solo on classical guitar. “Expedition Sailor” is top drawer stuff.  (The music video received a remix, which you can get on Kim’s Greatest Hits album.)

The “big” song on the album, still getting airplay today, is the anthem “Rock N’ Roll Duty”.  The tougher direction of the song is exemplified by a “live” style music video in a seedy bar.  As a fan I really wanted Kim to come out with a tough rocking tune, with a killer chorus, and he did.

“I’m just doing my rock n’ roll duty,
Creating a buzz buzz buzz,
Some say I’m in it for the money,
Man, I’m in it for love love love!”

The phrase “I’m just doing my rock n’ roll duty,” is now commonly heard among music fans in Canada. The song just hits the spot, and the riff is now synonymous for summer in my mind.

Other highlights on Rockland include the joyful “The Crossroads” which opens side two. The guitar-heavy “This Dream” is another favourite. I could always identify with the lyrics. It’s just a stellar song, an also-ran that could have been a fourth single. The record is rounded out by “Moodstreet” and “The Great Escape”, two decent but unremarkable tunes.

MVP:  Drummer Lou Molino, a near legend in these parts.  Curiously, when you Google images of Lou Molino, you will also get hits for Lou Ferigno.

Overall I was pleased with the direction of Rockland, going a bit more raw and rocking. Unfortunately with the exception of a few tracks like “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, it feels very tame. Except for quirky moments within guitar solos, it doesn’t possess enough of Kim’s humour and idiosyncrasies. It feels as if it’s on a leash, but it’s also not straining to get off it. It feels like Rockland hits the mark in many respects, but plays it too safe.

3/5 stars

ROCKLAND_0004

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Fill Your Head With Rock (CD/DVD set)

Happy long weekend, Canada! Here’s a bonafide Canadian content bonus review for ya! Party on.
FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK_0001KIM MITCHELL – Fill Your Head With Rock – Greatest Hits (2005 Sweden Rock CD/DVD set)

If you’re gonna buy this, you’re gonna buy this for the DVD, not the CD.  There’s so little live Mitchell material out there, and it’s somewhat surprising that this great nugget of a live show (1989 Rockland tour) came out as part of a weird Swedish greatest hits set.  Included on the CD is a new song written for the Sweden Rock Festival called “Fill Your Head With Rock”.  It was later included on Mitchell’s studio album Ain’t Life Amazing, rendering this CD obsolete.  Since the CD is little more than an extra to me, I’ll start by reviewing the included live DVD.

What kind of solo artist opens his show with five minutes of drum solos before taking the stage himself?  I can only think of one:  Kim Mitchell.

This live DVD, recorded in 1989 at the Kee to Bala opens exactly that way.  Astoundingly, it’s a triple drum solo!  Three drum kits, from left to right, keyboardist Greg Wells, drummer Lou Milano, and bassist Peter Fredette! The stage is so crowded that Wells is hidden behind Mitchell’s amplifiers!  And the party-ready crowd loved it.  When Mitchell entered the stage at the start of “That’s the Hold”, they were already in the palm of his hand.  Mitchell sports his neon pink baseball hat, a duplicate of which I owned at the same time!  Mitchell’s guitar solo is extended and suitably gonzo.

A really bad edit goes into the single “Rocklandwonderland”, opened with yet another solo, this time on keyboards.  Keep in mind this is a radio-friendly commercial rock artist that appealed to old-school prog rock fans, but also every beer-slurping hoser in the 1980’s.  To their credit the audience seems to be digging every note.  But then again, this is no band of slouches.  “Rocklandwonderland” was a huge hit in Canada.  If the studio version is a little too light on guitar, Mitchell compensates live.

One of the more rocking new songs is next, “The Crossroads”, and no it’s not a blues.  While there’s no argument it’s a party atmosphere (beach balls passed around), it’s also an extravaganza of Mitchell’s always classy guitar.  Fredette is suitably solid yet goofy at the same time, and backing Kim up on vocals with range to spare.  In my opinion, Peter Fredette has always been the secret weapon of this band.

FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK_0005“Crossroads” merges into the ballad “Lost Lovers Found”, not one of Mitchell’s best songs.  His vocal range on the chorus is still remarkable, and the duo of Wells and Fredette harmonize with just a hint of twang.  Once again the highlight is Kim’s soulful, brilliant guitar solo.  Yet all of this pales to the majesty of “Battle Scar”.  The three drum kits return for this Max Webster/Rush classic.  Fredette easily handles Geddy’s powerful vocal part.  “Battle Scar” remains one of Mitchell’s greatest compositions, heavy and relentless.

Another of Kim’s greatest, “All We All”, easily follows “Battle Scar”.  Once again, the solos are brilliant, as is Fredette’s lead vocal.  The Akimbo Alogo classic “That’s A Man” is a smooth showcase of Kim’s bluesier playing, on top of a cool ZZ Top style rock song.  Beers are hoisted into the air.  Fredette switches to guitar to accompany Mitchell on the lead solo, and several mustachioed audience members play air guitar.  One bearded man even attempts the air-drums.

“O Mercy Louise” isn’t exactly a standout, but the poodle-haired girls in the audience seem to like to bob and dance to it.  The whole room seems to sing along to the gleeful country of “Easy to Tame”.  Same story with the summer classic “Patio Lanterns”.  It’s nothing but the hits from here in, “Go For Soda” and “Rock N Roll Duty” inspiring plenty of sing-alongs.

As for the CD, I’m not sure if I follow the logic of its track selection.  While many of the biggest hits are included (“Rock N Roll Duty”, “I Am A Wild Party”, “Get Lucky”, “Go For Soda”), many are not.  Some of Kim’s best later material is included, such as “Kimosabe”, “World’s Such A Wonder” and “Find the Will”.  Even though the album concentrates on later Mitchell material, I’m baffled by the lack of inclusion of singles such as “America” and “Acrimony”.

There are, among the later songs, a lot of good tunes worth a revisit.  “Human Condition” is a grinding blues rocker, and “Wonder Where & Why” smokes from start to finish.  I think “Big Smoke” is one of the better tunes from the Aural Fixations album, an often overlooked record.

Of course we have to talk about the “new” song, “Fill Your Head With Rock”.  It’s very much in the mold of the later Kim Mitchell material included.  It’s hard, with a gritty guitar riff and slippery solos.  It won’t go down in history as a classic, but it’s a workmanlike Kim Mitchell rocker.  A year or two later, Helix wrote their own song called “Fill Your Head With Rock” for the Sweden Rock festival as well!

With Amazon.ca asking an absolutely ridiculous $124.75 right now, I would say snag this one if you find it used.

FILL YOUR HEAD

CD:  2.5/5 stars

DVD:  5/5 stars